Ariel Sharon dies after 8-year fight for his life

Netanyahu calls former PM ‘courageous warrior,’ lauds his ‘central role in the struggle for the security of Israel’ • Body to lie in state at Knesset today • State funeral planned for tomorrow at Negev ranch.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon [file]. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad OP/AH)
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon [file].
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad OP/AH)
Sharon, one of the most important and controversial figures in Israel’s history, died on Saturday afternoon at Sheba Medical Center at the age of 85.

Sharon, who fought terrorists in his military career and rivals in politics, lost the final battle for his health more than eight years after the stroke that ended his six decades of public service.Following Sharon’s death, his sons Gilad and Omri, who had remained by his side during his hospitalization, went to the family’s Sycamore Ranch in the Negev to start planning their father’s funeral. They also visited the grave of their mother, Lily, who died in 2000.The Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies decided on Saturday night that Sharon will have a military funeral on Monday at 2:30 p.m., on the Hill of the Anemones outside the ranch, before being buried beside Lily, his wife of 37 years.Current and former world leaders and senior officials are expected to come to Israel for the funeral, including US Vice President Joseph Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former British prime minister Tony Blair.Sharon’s body will lie in state at the Knesset on Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m., to enable the public to pay its last respects.A memorial service will take place on Monday at 10 a.m.President Shimon Peres called Sharon a great and courageous leader who loved his people and was loved by them. He said that Sharon knew no fear and that he would miss him personally as a friend.Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed “deep sorrow” over the death of Sharon, once a tough political rival, saying he was “first and foremost a courageous warrior and an outstanding general, one of the greatest commanders in the IDF.”“Israel bows its head on the passing” of Sharon, the prime minister said. “Ariel Sharon played a central role in the struggle for the security of Israel throughout the years.”Netanyahu’s statement focused on Sharon’s military exploits, saying he played a central part in the struggle for Israel’s security his entire life, and citing his role during the War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai Campaign and the Six Day War, as well as “the critical role” he played when he led his men across the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He also praised him for establishing the Paratroopers 101 commando unit and for promoting the concepts of retribution and initiating action when fighting terrorism.Netanyahu, who was fiercely opposed to Sharon’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, said that after Sharon doffed his military uniform he continued to serve Israel in many positions in the government, including as the 11th prime minister.“His memory will be enshrined forever in the heart of the nation,” he said.US President Barack Obama called Sharon a leader who “dedicated his life to the State of Israel.”“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples,” Obama said. “We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to prime minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.”In announcing Sharon’s passing after he died at 1:50 p.m. on Saturday, Sheba Medical Center Rehabilitation Hospital director Shlomo Noy said the former prime minister had fought for his life in the past week, determinedly and “against all odds,” and that he had surprised the doctors in how long he succeeded in that fight. Sharon’s heart weakened and he died without pain, peacefully and with his family by his side, Noy said.Sharon’s vital organs failed, including his kidneys and his lungs. His blood pressure and heartbeat, which returned to normal on Monday, deteriorated again on Thursday, and then his heart stopped beating on Saturday.                    Gilad Sharon reacted to the death of his father, saying that “he went when he decided to go.” Gilad Sharon thanked the medical staff at Sheba Medical Center and all of those who had prayed for the his father.Sharon’s former bureau chief Dov Weisglass said Sharon saw himself as the prime minister of the entire Jewish people. He was one of the most popular prime ministers in the state’s history, and one of the most well-liked leaders in the world, Weisglass said.Former MK Shai Hermesh, who was a close friend and neighbor of Sharon for decades, said he always put his friends first. Sharon cared most about his ranch, family, friends, fellow soldiers and the Land of Israel, and that when he would get together with people on his ranch, he would discuss everything but politics, Hermesh said.Daniel Clinton contributed to this report.